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Lisa Wheeler-Brown, Will Newton advance to City Council general election

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Petersburg City Council candidates Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Will Newton have survived the primary election and will move on to face each other in the Nov. 3 citywide general election.

“But it’s not over. It starts again tomorrow,” Wheeler-Brown said from an election night party. “We have 69 days until Nov. 3. And 34 days until the first vote-by-mail ballots go out.”

Wheeler-Brown came in with 37.43 percent of the vote according to preliminary data from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office. That represents 1026 votes. Newton trailed with 34.37 percent, or 942 votes.

“We’re thrilled that we were able to get in with such short notice,” Newton said at an election night celebration at Sylvia’s on 22nd Avenue South.

Sheila Scott-Griffin fought a hard battle, but fell short of making the cut with just 17.77 percent of the vote.

Aaron Sharpe and Lewis Stephens pulled in 6.75 and 3.68 percent of the vote respectively.

The race between Newton and Wheeler-Brown could get heated. The main difference between the two candidates is their stance on the Tampa Bay Rays’ proposed agreement to explore stadium sites outside St. Pete.

Wheeler-Brown supports Mayor Rick Kriseman’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Major League Baseball team while Newton has said the deal isn’t there yet. He wants to see the Tropicana Field site included in the newly developed Southside Community Redevelopment Area to ensure the struggling neighborhoods in District 7’s Midtown community receive additional revitalization funds.

“The parties should continue to talk,” Newton said of continued negotiations with the Major League Baseball team.

Wheeler-Brown worries that further delays on signing off on a deal could spell the end of baseball in the region after the Rays’ Use Agreement to play ball at Tropicana Field expires and a delay in capitalizing on potential revenue from development on the Tropicana Field site.

Wheeler-Brown will have the backing of both major newspapers in the area. Both the Tampa Bay Times and The Tampa Tribune have endorsed Wheeler-Brown based on her stance with the Rays.

While editorial backing will be a huge advantage for Wheeler-Brown in the general election, she could be at a funding disadvantage. Newton entered the race about six-months later than Wheeler-Brown and has nearly closed the funding gap between the two.

Wheeler-Brown has raised about $33,000 since declaring her candidacy in January. Newton declared in June and has raised more than $26,000.

“We never looked at funding as a challenge,” Newton said.

Two things even more telling than overall fundraising are momentum and where the money is coming from. Newton seems to have more fundraising momentum and is bringing in large contributions from firefighter groups across the state and even some with Washington D.C. addresses. Asked whether those resources may be tapped out going into a general election, Newton said, “There’s a lot of firefighters.”

Those big contributions have helped him close the fundraising gap and ensure he has more cash on hand than his opponent. As of the last reporting period before the primary election, Newton had about $9,500 left in his coffers while Wheeler-Brown had just $8,000.

However, Wheeler-Brown’s contributions have been overwhelmingly local. That shows she may be experiencing broad public support among those who will vote in the November election. It could also show she has plenty of outside groups and donors to tap heading into the general election.

Campaigning so far has been relatively mild. The only negative mailers were directed at Scott-Griffin, the only Republican in the race, by outside Democratic groups.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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